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An Introduction to Travis Picking

Updated: Jul 4

So have you ever wondered how to get an alternating bass line with your thumb?


Or you heard an interesting thing being done with chords but you cant really explain it?


Well this article is for you as we are diving into the concept of travis picking.


In this article we will be covering these topics:


 

So lets begin with…


What is travis picking?


Travis picking is a method of alternating bass lines with the thumb whilst maintaining a melody with the other fingers of the picking hand. It enables being able to get to grips with fingerstyle.


Travis picking is called that directly because of the innovations made on guitar by a person called Merle Travis.


Merle Travis of which we take the techniques name from, was deeply immersed in the American country scene.


His influence can be felt throughout americana in terms of how guitar is played when it comes to chords and melody.


Which is why its important to learn the fundamentals of this technique and this leads us into the next topic.

An Introduction to Travis Picking - Beta Blog Banner | Grokit Guitar

What are the fundamentals of travis picking?


First off lets start off with the thumb motion. If we look at Example 1

An Introduction To Travis Picking - Picture 1 | Grokit Guitar
An Introduction To Travis Picking - Picture 1 | Grokit Guitar

 

The first thing we are doing is creating an alternating bass line with the thumb movement.  We will stick with one chord for now with the C major.

 

We alternate the thumb between the root note or the C in the Chord and the next string to simulate a bass player supporting your guitar playing.


The same can be continued with two chords in Example 2 by adding a D chord

An Introduction To Travis Picking - Picture 2 | Grokit Guitar
An Introduction To Travis Picking - Picture 2 | Grokit Guitar


The pattern stays the same but it still sounds very basic and its not the full extent of travis picking.

 

If we move onto Example 3, we start to add the second finger to pluck at the same time as the thumb whilst still keeping that previous patten. 

An Introduction To Travis Picking - Picture 3 | Grokit Guitar
An Introduction To Travis Picking - Picture 3 | Grokit Guitar

We also add another chord the A minor cycling through C to D to A minor.

 

This is getting close to the traditional sound of travis picking but it isn’t quite there. As travis picking can sound like it carries a whole song when done correctly.  

 

The next Step is adding melody to the chords.


This would usually involve adding a few extensions onto the chords as the fingers are plucking the notes along with the base alternation.


So in Example 4 we add the last chord to the progression but this time we are adding movement to the chords we are holding. Which in turn adds melody.


An Introduction To Travis Picking - Picture 4 | Grokit Guitar
An Introduction To Travis Picking - Picture 4 | Grokit Guitar
An Introduction To Travis Picking - Picture 5 | Grokit Guitar
An Introduction To Travis Picking - Picture 5 | Grokit Guitar


The chord progression now becomes C D Amin and additionally E minor giving us a 4 5 2 6 progression in the key of G.


The adding of the extensions gives the chord progression extra motion, this is a good introductory lesson into the world of travis picking.


 

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Songs I Recommend To Listen To


Below are a list of songs that use Travis Picking as a resource to hear when it is used and how it can be used to great effect.

 

Listed from beginner to intermediate and advanced.


They sound quite complicated but that’s just the effect of travis picking because we broke it down earlier it should give you a decent introduction on how to get started.


Beginner:

 

Intermediate

 

Advanced:


My hope is that this article was a decent introduction to travis picking and that this helps you create your own patterns.


Please leave a comment below if you found this helpful.


See you in the next article.

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